Toward a standardized procedure for charcoal analysis

Margarita Tsakiridou*, Laura Cunningham, Mark Hardiman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Downloads (Pure)


Sedimentary charcoal records are used for understanding fire as an earth system process, however, no standardized laboratory methodology exists. Varying sample volumes and chemical treatments (i.e. type of chemical for length of time) are used for the deffloculation and extraction of charcoal from sediment samples. Here, we present the first systematic assessment of the effect of commonly used chemicals on charcoal area and number of fragments. In modern charcoal the area of fragments was significantly different depending on the chemical treatment. We subsequently applied H2O2 (33%), NaClO (12.5%) and HNO3 (50%) to a late-glacial-early Holocene palaeorecord and tested different sample volumes. The effects of the treatments were consistent between modern and fossil experiments, which demonstrates the validity of applying results from the modern experiment to the fossil records. Based on our experiments we suggest i) H2O2 33%, especially for highly organic sediments; ii) avoidance of high concentrations of NaClO for prolonged periods of time, and HNO3; and iii) samples of 1cm3 provided typically consistent profiles. Our results indicate that charcoal properties can be influenced by treatment type and sample volume, thus emphasizing the need for a common protocol to enable reliable multi-study comparisons or composite fire histories.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)329-340
Number of pages12
JournalQuaternary Research
Early online date1 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • fire
  • charcoal
  • fire history reconstructions
  • chemical treatments
  • methodology
  • peat


Dive into the research topics of 'Toward a standardized procedure for charcoal analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this